Friday, August 5, 2011

Everything Must Go

EVERYTHING MUST GO         C              
USA  (96 mi)  2010  ‘Scope  d:  Dan Rush

Watching a guy laying around in his front yard in a lounge chair drinking beer, his clothes and personal belongings strewn about from a wife who kicked him out on his ass, turned into a lumberingly slow and somewhat pathetic yard sale for the next few days, is hardly one’s idea of great cinema, rather, reminiscent of some neighbor who’s become a public nuisance, airing his dirty laundry in public, which feels like leaving his dog outside subjecting everyone to his constant barking.  In most neighborhoods, there’s usually at least one guy who refuses to mow his lawn, even as the rest appear perfectly manicured and golf course textured green.   The last ornery guy in the neighborhood movie was Clint Eastwood in GRAN TORINO (2008), where a retired blue collar worker sat on his front porch drinking beer and fumed if anybody stepped on his lawn, continually uttering racist tinged expletives under his breath, eventually deciding to take matters into his own hands, becoming something of a neighborhood buttinsky, butting into other people’s business.  Here the viewer waits for other neighbors to show up to butt into this guy’s personal business, which is the subject of the movie, which suggests one guy’s sorry plight is also our own.  Like homelessness, there but before the grace of God go I, so to speak.  But rather than dissect a social phenomena of people getting thrown out on their asses in America, losing their jobs and their homes, and in some cases their families, this movie prefers to hang around on the guy’s front lawn and see what social phenomena can happen.  Again, rather than show real lives in anything resembling real life situations, the director prefers taking the Hollywood route of imagining how he can get the audience to sympathize with this one lame guy, supposedly a stand-in for all of the rest of us, thinking his personal transformation into a decent human being could be a road map for our own troubled lives.  If only it were that easy.  But the reason most are out on their asses in America is not because they are self-centered louses who drink too much, who probably deserved to get canned from their job in the first place, but decent folks who have been laid-off as it’s easier for their companies and factories to move overseas and pay a pittance than pay American workers a decent wage.  But you won’t hear any of that in this movie, which all but ignores the real social problems and instead centers on a character study of a guy whose world has been turned upside down. 

Films like this pretend to care about real life issues, but really what they’re doing is placing a star actor in an everyman’s role and then hope that it generates good revenue, hoping the actor gets good reviews and everybody working on the film gets to stay working in the business.  That’s the Hollywood dream, where in this case the idea of taking a successful television comedian and offering him a sympathetic role as just a regular guy will allow the public to see him in a different light.  In Hollywood, that’s considered going out on the edge and taking a chance.  Many will get suckered into this scheme, and that’s all it is, a scheme to raise money, like a pyramid scheme or TV evangelists begging for dollars or any other, where they attempt to fool the public into donating dollars.  Character studies continue to rely on the ROCKY (1976) formula, a rags to riches saga that usually shows the subject in an abject state of being down and out, usually desperate and all alone in the gutter, without a friend in the world where life is a waste, until eventually, oftentimes by pure accidental luck, fate offers them a second chance where they scratch their way back into human decency and hope to have the opportunity to do things differently next time around.  Now they are better prepared, and the viewer gets to see the people who help them on their path of redemption, like an extended family, seen here as Rebecca Hall, the neighbor across the street, and Christopher Jordan Wallace (excellent, by the way), son of late rap artist Biggie Smalls (The Notorious B.I.G.) and R&B singer Faith, all of which prove the adage that “It takes a village to raise a child.”  This generic formula is as old as mud, but the public is usually a sucker for it, so in Hollywood, they use it all the time, as it’s known for paying off at the box office.  Sticking comedian Will Ferrell in the lead role, allowing him to play a loveable loser, a downhearted guy who can actually provide a textured, understated performance, going against type, will likely draw sympathy for his portrayal, the big lug.  Hollywood has been putting guys like this onscreen since before the days of the Depression, where the audience can get a few laughs as they sympathize with the character’s plight.  What they forget is that the actor is getting several million dollars for his portrayal in front of the camera, hardly deserving of the public’s sympathy, more likely their outrage.      

Are famous actors, as opposed to unknowns or non-professionals, the best vehicles to deliver this kind of sentimentalized social message, one laced with so many broken American Dreams?  Apparently not, as in this wealthy neighborhood, who believes Ferrell is in need of anything?  In real life, he probably drives around in a Mercedes.  But in Hollywood we’re asked to suspend belief and believe what’s happening onscreen.  The quandary here is if it wasn’t Ferrell onscreen, no one would be watching the film, as it would be languishing on a shelf somewhere without anyone taking notice.  Ferrell brings an audience, but also artificiality, as he’s a commodity spokesperson, a walking commercial for his own career, always pandering to the audience for approval.  Unfortunately, this makes the movie about the famous actor playing a downhearted sot who needs another shot at life, leaving all the rest of the working stiffs who are out on their asses to fend for themselves, as this film hardly notices you, and uses your sorry plight for sympathy that is directed towards a millionaire actor instead of the real people who deserve it.  That’s the ass backwards approach in Hollywood, as they suck all the money out of you so you don’t have anything left to offer to those in real need.  Some people are misguided enough to think that just choosing to see a movie like this is a profound expression of their left-leaning political sympathies, as if it’s donating money for the right cause.  Well it’s not.  It goes right into the coffers of the Hollywood culture that invented this kind of generic entertainment mixed with a light social message.  It’s a breezy way of getting people to try to take a social issue seriously.  Is Will Ferrell the right spokesperson for the American economic freefall?  Probably not, as his idea of comedy probably leans more toward TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969). 

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